Saturday, March 15, 2008


I watched the DVD-film, “Into the Wild” last night.

It reminded me of Merton. And Nietzsche. And 2 of my nephews. And myself. The compelling need to somehow turn away from “the world” – its lies, its greed, its power – to hear and follow the voice of the soul. The call to be who you are.

Somewhere down in my comments, Marc brought up a book about the “counter-culture” of Catholicism during the pre-Vatican II years. 1938 – 1962. These were the years that Merton was drawn into Catholicism and entered the monastery. These were also the years of my childhood.

There was definitely something counter-cultural about Catholicism during those years. Catholics stood apart. We went to our own schools, and rarely married “outside the faith”. We made great efforts to structure and understand our lives in religious (and sometimes overly pious) ways - but did we counter the culture in which we were enmeshed? Or were we sucked in like everyone else?

I don’t believe that Merton was ever truly touched (or bothered) by the cult of Catholicism that I knew as a child. Merton once said, referring specifically to Thich Nhat Hanh, that he was more like a Buddhist monk than his Catholic brethren.

But I do not believe that Merton would have ever left the Trappists or the Catholic Church.

Merton went deeper. To the place where one can find in Catholicism the call to be who you are. And that is, by definition, counter-cultural. And he was.

I wish that organized religion could be more of a guide for this soul-protest. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Never has been. Maybe, like Nietzche said, one has to move past this expecting an answer and comfort from "religion".


  1. What was it Flannery O'Connor wrote -- sometimes you suffer more from the church than because of the church.
    I also grew up in that era and in New York City, where Merton's faith was nurtured. You are so correct that Merton went deeper than the superficial manifestations of Catholic culture. There's a grittier, darker, more solitary space deeper down in Catholicism. It was there Merton, Dorothy Day, Catherine DeHueck Doherty, Tony Walsh and others inhabited. Benedict, Francis, Teresa, Pedro Arrupe, Georges Rouault, Charles de Foucauld also walked that path. They all, I am sure, had their quarrels with the church and its packaged religion. They also realized that faith is a shakier, wilder thing than religion.
    We do need a community to wear away the edges off our egos, I am afraid. And too much comfort is not a good sign. It breeds complacency.

  2. "You're on your own brother" wasn't that how Merton began his little talk in the (I think) only video of him?

    I think you're right about the organized religion thing. The only thing I've found really consistent in my engagement in the organized sectors of tibetan buddhism, theravada buddhism, quakerism, hinduism, communism, catholicism, satanism, occultism, is disappointment.

    I liked the book's piece I mentioned about the catholic counterculture because I thought it demythologized Merton and made him more real.

    I hadn't heard of this movie. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    Speaking of Alaska, I received a note from the diocese ( i contribute once and awhile) that they are possibly going to go bankrupt because of payments for the priest pedophile scandals. Another one just cropped up a couple of weeks ago.

    It's tempting: the idea of "dropping out". I picture me, wife, and younguns, in a trailer, in the middle of a desert(with satellite hookup)

  3. I was going to mention the others who have found their way to the deeper (as you say, "darker, grittier, more solitary) places of the Catholic faith. Thanks, Barbara, you said it better than I could. IT is those - as well as some who still live today - Helen Prejean, Dan Berrigan, even ordinary people that I know personally - who keep me Catholic.

    I'm not sure that "dropping out" is the way to describe it, Marc. Again, I'm back to Merton's "we and the world interpenetrate". Running away is giving away my RESPONSability. For me, it feels more like an awake and aware soul hunger that actively PROTESTS the lies (and greed and power) of the world that rob us all of the life sacredness that is our being. That is what "Into the Wild" was about.

    Merton's entering into the monastery was like this kid's running to the wilderness. Not a running away, more a running TO ...


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